Being Latino at an Ivy League

The memoir, A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano by Ruben Navarrette Jr., was brought to my attention via a tweet: @andersoncooper: Latino in the Ivy League http://bit.ly/9qIFJ. It sounds like an interesting and timely read:

From Kirkus Reviews

A young man’s appraisal–Navarrette is only 25 now–of his turbulent years as a Mexican-American undergraduate at one of the nation’s most prestigious universities. Navarrette starts with a declaration of independence, spurning the labels “people of color” (offensive) and “Hispanic” (too general), preferring “minority” and “Latino.” The man thinks for himself. That trait, along with a superb intellect (straight A’s, valedictorian), gets him into Harvard–but you wouldn’t know it from most of his teachers and classmates, who assume that affirmative action is his ticket.

Confronting that particular bigotry and others becomes Navarrette’s job. He darts his barbs at two chief targets: the old Wasp elite that stifles the university with exclusive rules and expectations, and the new Mexican-American contingent, equally exclusive, that tries to shoehorn him into an ironclad rad-chic ideology. Friendship with Mexican-American essayist Richard Rodriguez; the arrest of a Harvard Latino chum on armed- robbery charges; and a provocative question posed to Cesar Chavez when the labor leader visits Harvard–all are milestones in Navarette’s process of self-definition.

And that, in fact, is what this book is, for the gripping ethno-political issues ride atop a very conventional coming-of-age tale, replete with new buddies, homesickness, adolescent rebellion, loss of virginity, love affairs–familiar fare and ho-hum reading for those indifferent to Navarrette’s emotional life. Powerful, though, for its two-fold message: that America must do more to educate Latinos (our fastest growing minority), and that freedom of thought belongs to everyone. — Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Visit Rubennavarrette.com to learn more.

UPDATE: My friend from HS wrote to me to say this: “This book has a deep personal meaning for me. I was going through a rough time at college (Wellesley) and felt so isolated and out of place. Ruben Navarrete spoke to my experience and to that of many other Latin@s at ivy schools and he normalized my feelings and gave me language to express my feelings: that of straddling two different worlds. Wonderful book.”

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